BUNDLE WEEK: Kitty Liu’s 4 nature bundles!

ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT BUNDLE

Can the efforts of local environmental stewards impact resource management, environmental governance, and even social movements? What are the impacts of citizen science? How do we build resilient communities? This bundle includes resources for a broad transdisciplinary audience of researchers, educators, and practitioners who are interested in improving existing programs or developing new ones.

  1. Citizen Science: Public Participation in Environmental Research
  2. Grassroots to Global: Broader Impacts of Civic Ecology
  3. Communicating Climate Change: A Guide for Educators
  4. Connecting the Drops: A Citizens’ Guide to Protecting Water Resources

Continue reading “BUNDLE WEEK: Kitty Liu’s 4 nature bundles!”

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BUNDLE WEEK: Kitty Liu’s 4 nature bundles!

Mastering Natural History

One of my former Baja students wrote, just last week, with two exciting bits of news. First, now that she finally has a real job, she is buying a house in Billings, Montana.  Second, she is pursuing certification as a master naturalist. I wrote her back immediately.

Although it’s always exciting to learn that former students are acquiring mortgages and the other accoutrements of adulthood, I was intrigued by the news that she planned to become a master naturalist.

I must confess that, despite having taught natural history courses at the university level for a dozen years, I had no idea what qualifies one as a master naturalist. I got on the internet and searched for master naturalist programs, pleased to discover not only that such things exist, but that there is a fledgling organization, the  Alliance of Natural Resource Outreach and Service Programs, ANROSP, that networks naturalist and/or master naturalist training programs in 29 states.

In the days of yore my mother earned a bachelor’s degree in interpreting natural history at the University of Colorado. Does that sound a bit old school? These days, one interested in such things might pursue a course of studies in environmental education, and I know of at least one master’s program in that subject offered by Western Washington University. But even there, the question might be asked what qualifies one as a master naturalist.

In my recent book, Coves of Departure: Field Notes from the Sea of Cortez, I mention that Harvard’s E. O. Wilson, one of the foremost naturalists at work today, writes of having once been instructed that he couldn’t call himself a naturalist until he had identified ten thousand species. Yikes. But even if Wilson’s counsel had been offered tongue-in-cheek, it dabbles with a real question of whether one can actually master natural history.

Experts could argue that the master would need such breadth of knowledge that it would take a lifetime to achieve sufficient depth to achieve mastery.

coves
In my next book, Nature Beyond Solitude: Notes from the Field, I make the case that we are just now entering into the golden age of natural history. Many will argue otherwise, however, because less and less natural history is being taught at the university level. This is especially true in biology departments, where expertise in organismal biology is being replaced by interests in molecular & cellular biology. At the same time, citizen science is producing a wealth of data related to natural history that could never have been collected, let alone processed, as recently as when I earned my bachelor’s degree. And now we have programs like the Montana Master Naturalist Program!

Even if I’m wrong about a forthcoming golden age of natural history—you’ll have to read the book to decide on that—it must be stipulated that natural history is occupying vibrant new niches everywhere one looks.

Here in Seattle, just a few days ago, more than 5,000 Amazon employees signed off on an open letter to the company’s board of directors that identified climate change as an existential threat. I doubt that many of the signatories of this letter would identify themselves as naturalists, let alone master naturalists, and yet the letter itself, which can be read HERE, is informed by a sophisticated understanding of ecology and natural history. I am encouraged by the shared belief, articulated in this letter, that “climate impact must be a top consideration in everything we do.”

Natural history relates directly and unambiguously to climate change. Indeed, the American Museum of Natural History recently opened a permanent display on climate change. The exhibit covers everything from corals to glaciers, forests to polar ice caps, and that’s a lot of natural history. And now what we need are a few more master naturalists to help us understand where we’re going with nature.


 

John Seibert Farnsworth, who recently moved to the Pacific Northwest, is fast becoming a serial author with Comstock Publishing Associates. His first book, Coves of Departure: Field Notes from the Sea of Cortez, was released this past November. His second, Nature Beyond Solitude: Notes from the Field, will be published on March 15.

Mastering Natural History

A Tentative History of Wild Bird Feeding (part 2)

Elsewhere in the New Testament, birds are portrayed as agents of wasted opportunity in Jesus’s parable of the sower (Matthew 13:4), consuming the metaphorical “seed as the Good News” carelessly cast onto the path rather than onto the tilled soil. These would have been effective metaphors for Jesus’s rural audience, who would have been familiar with the local birds ready to scavenge any seed they could. For our current purposes, this reminds us of those instances when bird feeding occurs against our wishes: the unwelcome species at the feeder; those aggressive waterbirds that invade the picnic; the scavengers of human food wastes.

A final biblical example of a feeding interaction disturbingly reverses the expected arrangements: God directed the prophet Elijah to await further instructions from a cave in the dry and remote Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan River. How can he possibly survive? By wild bird feeding with a difference. “Ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening” (1 Kings 17:6; ca. 550 BCE). How’s that for deliberate, systematic, and regular provisioning of species-appropriate sustenance?

In reality, however, the historical record—at least the component available in English—is strangely silent (ignoring the Egyptians for the moment) about what we would accept as just about any form of bird feeding from the first century CE until somewhere in the eighteenth. Maybe other things were happening—the Dark Ages, the Crusades, the Reformation—but writers, philosophers, and journalists seem to have missed the feeding undoubtedly occurring in their very own streets and villages. In all seriousness, that is the most likely explanation: it was so familiar and commonplace—so ordinary—as to be unworthy of comment.

There are a few worthy exceptions to this dearth of historical detail, although their veracity may be questionable, both involving Roman Catholic saints. The first features the somewhat opaque Scottish figure Saint Serf (or Serbán) (ca. 500–583) of Fife. Among numerous highly improbable adventures (including seven years as pope in Rome) and the usual series of miracles, it was his apparent “taming of a wild robin by the act of hand feeding” that has often warranted mention. Although not directly related to feeding, Saint Cuthbert of Northumberland (634–687) also deserves attention here in the context of a very early concern for bird conservation. Arguably the most famous saint of Anglo-Saxon England, Cuthbert is today recognized for enacting the world’s first bird-protection laws. During a spiritual retreat on the nearby Farne Islands, Saint Cuthbert used his authority as bishop of Lindisfarne to declare legal protection for the eider ducks and other seabirds that were being harvested unsustainably by fishermen. These laws—literally centuries ahead of their time—remain in place today.

Saint Francis of Assisi (ca. 1181–1226) is venerated for his revolutionary ideas on many topics, but of particular relevance here is his conception of the relationship between humanity and nature. Francis regarded the natural world as “the mirror of God,” and therefore all animals were fellow creatures to be treated with appropriate respect. He famously preached to flocks of birds gathered expectantly beside the road—although there is no mention of him actually feeding them. He does, however, convince some irate villagers to feed a starving wolf instead of killing it. The legend says they did so.

The long slow centuries without much reference to bird feeding come to a whimsical end with the advent of the era of broad circulation newspapers, especially in England. For example, on one apparently slow news day in 1787, the Northampton Mercury felt it “worthy of Remark,” that a “Pair of wild Sparrows have built a Nest and hatched their Eggs in the kitchen,” and that the “Mistress of the House often feeds the young Ones.” Furthermore, a predilection to bird feeding may be an indicator of moral character according to a character reference tended to a Scottish court. The accused murderer, according to an acquaintance, was a “kind and mild man of a sensitive nature. He used to carry crumbs of bread for the purpose of feeding birds.” We do not know whether this swayed the jury.

THE BIRDS AT MY TABLEThe following is an excerpt from The Birds at My Table: Why We Feed Wild Birds and Why it Matters, by Darryl Jones.

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A Tentative History of Wild Bird Feeding (part 2)

A Tentative History of Wild Bird Feeding (part 1)

Birds feature everywhere in ancient cultural records, especially in the religious texts from many traditions. This is a rich seam followed in Mark Cocker’s Birds and People, the outstanding compendium of the way birds have featured in cultures throughout the world. Birds are depicted as spirit guides and intermediaries, villains and tricksters, agents of evil and even as deities (with corvids—crows and ravens—being mentioned remarkably often). Ancient and medieval writers also employed birds as metaphors, exemplars, and similes (“You will rise up on wings like eagles,” Isaiah 40:31). Real birds—as opposed to literary devices or religious motifs—appear less often, and where they do, they often feature as game to be hunted, potentially dangerous wildlife, or occupants of remote or desolate locations.

THE BIRDS AT MY TABLE

As far as I have been able to determine, the very earliest mention of the feeding of wild birds is found in Hindu writings of the Vedic era, at least 3500 years ago. These texts describe the daily requirement for orthodox Hindus to practice bhutayajna, one of the panchamahayajnas, the “five great sacrifices” designed to mitigate the accumulation of negative karma. The bhutayajna stipulates the provision of food, traditionally rice cakes, for birds but also “dogs, insects, wandering outcasts, and beings of the invisible worlds.” Given that this remains a standard practice of many contemporary Hindus, it surely is the longest running form of organized wild bird feeding.

 

No civilization can claim a stronger relationship between birds and its religious life, however, than that of the ancient Egyptians. While a number of species feature in Egyptian writings and rituals, as divine representatives on earth or as metaphors for divine attributes, two species, the Sacred Ibis and the Peregrine Falcon, predominate in this spiritual landscape. The vast numbers of ibis (sacred to the god Thoth) mummies involved (Saqqâra alone holds 1.5 million; several sites were capable of processing 10,000 birds annually) have been well documented, but less well known are the millions of falcons (representatives of Horus) that were employed in a similar fashion.

An obvious logistical question arises: How did the Egyptians acquire the birds needed in such numbers? We know through ancient administrative texts that both species were raised specifically in captivity for such purposes as well as being harvested in huge numbers from the wild. To enhance the steady demand for falcons, a stipend was provided by the royal household to the priests to be used for the maintenance of fields dedicated to provisioning falcons with food; a statue commemorating a man named Djedhor describes how he “prepared the food of the falcons living in the land.” Similarly, fields were set aside for exclusive use by ibis and were overseen by priestly wardens. Dating from about 700 BCE, this must surely be the earliest form of mass, well-organized, planned bird feeding. This was intentional provisioning for the living birds; when they were dedicated (which involved capture, ritual killing, and mummification), food was also provided for their journey accompanying the deceased to the afterlife: recent X-ray examinations of ibis mummies have discovered special foods inserted into their bills during preparation.

Within the Judeo-Christian tradition, the earliest writings possibly associated with birds and feeding are thought to be certain passages from the book of Leviticus (written around 1440 BCE). Among the various laws proclaimed is an admonition for some of the harvest—the grain growing at the edges of the field and the fallen gleanings—to be left in place “for the poor and the foreigner among you” (Leviticus 23:9). To this list of unfortunates some scholars have added birds, although this has been contested. A much more characteristic theme is found in the New Testament, in the gospels Luke and Matthew (ca. 80s or 90s CE), of God’s benevolence and care as exemplified by his provision of food for the birds (for example: “Consider the ravens; they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them” (Luke 12:24). This is a powerful image: God as bird feeder, who cares even for the lowly sparrow (Matthew 10:29).

 

The following is an excerpt from The Birds at My Table: Why We Feed Wild Birds and Why it Matters, by Darryl Jones.

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Recommended interview to watch with this blog post:

https://vancouversun.com/entertainment/festivals/bird-lovers-flock-to-vancouver-for-summer-festival

 

 

A Tentative History of Wild Bird Feeding (part 1)

Bird Feeding: 4 mystifying facts you didn’t know

Backyard Birds of NewYork by Kate Dolamore
Original watercolor courtesy of Kate Dolamore Art

A recent 1869 Cornell University Podcast revealed that an astonishing one third to a half of the homes in Northwestern Europe, the United States, and Australia are feeding wild birds. We get it, bird feeding is a huge trend. And yet . . . should we do it? Well here’s some food for thought:

Birds of a feather flock together. Or not. When it comes to feeding wild birds, different species that would not necessarily mingle, come together in an unnaturally small area to share food. The dangers of such unique turnout include the spreading of diseases, the attracting of predators, and the consuming of rare foods.

Food for thought. According to the author of The Birds at My Table Darryl Jones, birds are much like humans, and will jump at the opportunity to indulge in sugary or salty foods. In Australia, for example, people often feed birds meat. The Australian Broadcast Corporation asked Jones about this practice, which can lead to obstruction in the bird’s beak and ultimately to bacterial infection. And it gets worse. Birds eating at feeders are now exposed to foods that are intended for human consumption; such as cereals and stock foods, pumpkin seeds, chicken eggs and eggshells, fat, rind, lard, marrow, and table scraps. With an increasing demand for more convenient products and ready-made feed mixes, an entire corporate business dedicated to bird feeding is growing to the detriment of the actual well-being of the birds.

The sky is the limit. Jones roots himself in the idea that mindfulness is key when it comes to bird feeding: “Your feeder is one link in a gigantic chain . . . Your private, personal action of providing food for birds changes the structure of an entire, interconnected ecosystem.” The Conversation joined this debate and posted an article including simple rules to follow when taking part in an activity that “has become acceptable, widespread, and even a sign of moral expression.”

Two birds with one stone. People may think that by putting up a bird feeder they are both helping the birds while undertaking an enjoyable activity, but Jones concludes that the feeders are actually for us. In providing information on how to feed birds responsibly, he is getting the discussion on the table. And he’s not alone. The Sydney Morning Herald featured an article on bird feeding that focuses on doing so with care.

Jones Birds at My Table.jpg copy

All things considered, The Birds at My Table conveys the idea that bird-feeding, done conscientiously, can be a valuable experience. On a human level, it provides with pleasure and personal fulfillment. It allows the average person to connect with nature within the confinements of their own garden and in a sense, bond with the birds. Jones’s book helps fill in the information gaps on how to feed the birds and challenges us to do so with awareness, and to become good hosts.

Find more information on the author or to purchase The Birds at My Table, here.

 

As the American Ornithology Meeting 2018 #AOS18AZ and the Northeast Natural History Conference #NENHC18 are happening, discover more ornithology titles from the press:

 

 

 

Recommended song for this post:

 

About the author of this blog post: Sierra Grazia is a senior writing major at Ithaca College with minors in comparative literature and writing for film, television, and emerging media. When Sierra is not writing or reading, she enjoys spending her time running for her college cross country and track team, taking photographs, and traveling.

 

Bird Feeding: 4 mystifying facts you didn’t know

What happens when we feed birds?

Jones Birds at My Table

Feeding wild birds is probably something so familiar, so everyday, so commonplace—so tame perhaps—that we can forget that this is a fundamentally artificial activity. In virtually every case, the types of food we use to attract birds to our house yards—typically mixtures of various seeds but sometimes leaf-overs from a family meal—are entirely different to those they consume in their natural diet. Our feeders also concentrate birds into closer interactions than they would normally tolerate, often bringing together species which would never have anything to do with each other. Even the structure of the feeder itself is starkly unnatural: a swaying glass cylinder or a conspicuous platform, typically in an open and potentially dangerous setting. Continue reading “What happens when we feed birds?”

What happens when we feed birds?